British government leases barge to house 500 asylum seekers

The barge, docked in Portland Port, is to accommodate single adult men while their asylum claims are processed.

People thought to be refugees and migrants who made the crossing from France are brought into port after being picked up in the Channel by a UK border force vessel in Dover, south east England.
Last month, the British PM unveiled controversial legislation to stop migrants and refugees making the treacherous journey on small boats [Matt Dunham/AP Photo]

The United Kingdom government announced it had leased a barge to house approximately 500 asylum seekers on England’s south coast as it seeks to cut lodging costs for migrants and refugees arriving on its shores.

The Home Office said on Wednesday that the accommodation barge will be used “to reduce the unsustainable pressure on the UK’s asylum system and cut the cost to the taxpayer caused by the significant increase in Channel crossings”.

The barge, docked in Portland Port, is to accommodate single adult men while their asylum claims are processed, with the first residents due in the “coming months”.

“The use of expensive hotels to house those making unnecessary and dangerous journeys must stop. We will not elevate the interests of illegal migrants over the British people we are elected to serve,” said Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.

“We have to use alternative accommodation options, as our European neighbours are doing – including the use of barges and ferries to save the British taxpayer money and to prevent the UK becoming a magnet for asylum shoppers in Europe,” he added.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to stop crossings of the Channel, which numbered more than 45,000 last year. Last month, he unveiled controversial legislation to stop migrants and refugees from making the treacherous journey in small boats.

Almost 88,000 people have made the crossing of one of the world’s busiest waterways since 2018. More than 160,000 people were awaiting a decision as of the end of December 2022, with most having waited more than six months, according to official figures

The UK’s contentious new law, which would allow authorities to deport people arriving on its shores via small boats across the Channel, faced heavy criticism from several charities and human rights groups. They said the plan – known as the Illegal Migration Bill – criminalises the efforts of thousands of refugees.

The British government is also hoping to send thousands of asylum seekers more than 6,500km (4,000 miles) away to Rwanda as part of a 120-million-pound ($148m) deal to deter people from crossing.

The plan was announced in April last year, but the first deportation flight was blocked by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.

London’s High Court ruled in December that the scheme was legal, but opponents have sought to appeal that ruling.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies